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How Much Water Do You Eat?

When I do classroom presentations on irrigated agriculture, I ask the students, "How much water do you eat? Eat?" they say. "We don't eat water!" Ah, but we do. 

We may not think about it, but it does take quite a bit of water to produce the food we eat each day.  For example, it takes about 3 gallons of water to produce lettuce for one salad; 3.3 gallons to produce one tomato; 5.4 gallons to produce one head of broccoli; and 72 gallons to produce one cup of pasta.  Among permanent orchard crops, water used to grow fruit and nuts is understandably higher. It takes 14 gallons of water to produce one peach; 13.8 gallons for one orange; 1.1 gallons to produce one almond, and 4.9 gallons to produce one walnut. In animal agriculture, water is needed to grow the feed crops, as well as used by the animal itself. One egg requires 63 gallons; an eight-ounce glass of milk takes 48 gallons, and it takes 616 gallons for one hamburger patty. 

As farmers, irrigation is perhaps THE most important cultural practice we use to produce food. (Without irrigation, about all we could produce in our area are tumbleweeds and jack rabbits!)   Although we can't change the fact it indeed takes 14 gallons to produce each peach we grow, we can affect the efficiency with how we use that precious -- often limited -- water supply. Trying to maximize every drop of water used on farm, farmers and agricultural water districts throughout the state have embraced water-saving technology for decades, including drip, micro-sprinkler, and subsurface (buried) irrigation systems; sensors that monitor water use and soil moisture; laser-leveling of fields to enhance water movement and penetration; groundwater recharge basins to percolate the underground aquifer; recycling irrigation water; lining canals; utilizing technology to prevent leaks; and computer irrigation management software programs designed specific to crop and soil types; and drones and GPS systems and more.

California family farmers help make our state not only the nation's leading farm state, but a global leader in water use efficiency. For example, California garlic consumes about 34 gallons of water per pound produced, while Mexico-produced garlic consumes 77 gallons and Brazilian garlic consumes 131 gallons of water, according to the California Farm Water Coalition. 

There is so much information about California water and we could produce about 100 "Liz's Picks" about water alone -- but we won't bore you!! I am more than happy to answer any questions you may have about on-farm water use and the myriad issues involving our most precious resource. Just email me at and I'll be happy to share what I know. In the meantime, here are some good California-based information sources you may want to Google: California Farm Water Coalition; Public Policy Institute of California; California Water Institute and International Center for Water Technology, both at Fresno State; and Water Education Foundation.

And, don't forget to "drink" your food or "eat" your water!!

Liz, her husband Earl, their grown children and their families make up Hudson Farms, a fifth-and sixth-generation family farm in Sanger, CA.

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